By Pastor Bruce K. Oyen
How does preaching differ from teaching? Preaching is different from teaching in at least one way: usually preaching is in a lecture format. The preacher speaks while others listen. Teaching, on the other hand, more easily lends itself to interaction with the students. But we must not make too big a distinction between the methods because one can be a lecturer who, though there is little or no interaction with the listeners, teaches them a considerable amount of information. The famous preacher, G. Campbell Morgan, was often a preacher-lecturer, but he was known as a gifted Bible teacher. Why? Because one could learn a lot from his lectures.
How does the preacher or teacher benefit from doing verse-by-verse preaching and teaching? Whatever method one uses, verse-by-verse Bible teaching is valuable for some practical reasons.
First, it forces the preacher or teacher to do his or her homework. He or she must look up the meaning of words in the verses being studied. He or she must taken into consideration what a statement means based on the culture of the time in which something was written. For example, why did the Lord tell his disciples to not greet anyone by the way? (Luke 10:4) Why did the Lord tell them to not go from house to house? (Luke 10:7)
Second, he or she is forced to take the immediate context into consideration. Listeners will readily notice it when an interpretation is read into the context, instead of derived from it.
Third, the preacher or teacher is forced to take into consideration a broader context of the chapter in which the verses are found. It is not always or only just a few verses before and after the ones being studied that count. It might be the whole chapter. We sometimes must interpret Biblical statements by taking into consideration an even broader context. This can be the whole Biblical book or Biblical letter (epistle) in which the verses are found. And it sometimes requires that we interpret specific verses in light of an even larger portion of the Bible, and maybe even light of the whole Bible. We must remember that the Bible means what its writers meant, not we what we want it to mean. So, we must determine what they had in mind with a given statement.
Fourth, verse-by-verse teaching causes the preacher or teacher to evaluate how the verses apply to his or her own life. We can be changed by the verses we are studying in order to teach them to others.
Fifth, the preacher or teacher is forced to see how the verses under consideration apply to the daily lives of those to whom we plan to speak. They need more than informed minds. They need transformed lives.
Sixth, verse-by-verse teaching forces the teacher or preacher to wrestle with the theology of the Bible. It is a very theological book, a profoundly theological book. And it deserves all the mental sweat required to understand it. If we removed from the Bible all its profound theology, we would regret it. Truthfully, if we did so there would not be much left of the Bible but a skeleton.
How does the listener benefit from verse-by-verse Bible teaching or preaching? My answer to this one is simple: it does for the listener what it does for the preacher or teacher. That is, the student will learn the meaning of Bible words, Biblical culture, the importance of context, how verses apply to daily life, and the Bible’s theology. Those are good reasons for preachers and teachers to provide these things for those who listen to our sermons or attend our classes.
All that said, let me say that topical preaching and teaching is important and valuable. Let us not use one method to the exclusion of the other. It would be a great mistake to do so.